|by Misoprostol | August 2, 2007|
Koolance CPU-330 Water Block Review (compared against FuZion APOGEE GTX, Tuniq Tower)
Koolance CPU-330 CPU Block Review
Price: NCIX.com $60Availability: Available Now
Warranty: 1 year from the manufacturer
Table of Contents
3- What's Included
4- Block Appearance
6- Installation & Instructions
7- Test Bed Hardware
8- Testing Methodology
An opinion about Koolance... Anyone who's been following water cooling for any appreciable amount of time has got one. Some people say it "looks great and performs just as well", while others will disagree with that sentiment.
All bias aside, this is meant to be the definitive review of Koolance's latest and greatest CPU block. We're going to prove once and for all how it compares to some of the other blocks from Swiftech, D-TEK, and Magicool that we have in our testing lab.
We will include the Sunbeam Tuniq Tower in our charts so that the unfortunate people (/personal bias - hehe) who are still using air cooling will have a point of reference in our charts.
For manufacturer information about this CPU block, including specifications and compatibility, please refer to this link.
Speaking of compatibility, one thing that Koolance offers that goes above and beyond any other water cooling manufacturer right now is a Product Wizard on their website that you can simply enter a hardware configuration, and it will output the available options you have for putting together a Koolance liquid cooling system for your computer.
EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that the Koolance Product Wizard does not include several key older motherboard. I had only verified a couple of current high end motherboards, so if you're using an older board, you may find it less useful for you. That said, I believe it to be a tool for people who are putting together a NEW Koolance system, so I still think it's great.
I played around with the wizard a little bit. It seems up to date, and very well thought out. This will simplify the buying process for many people who are new to water cooling, or are simply unsure of what to buy.
The Koolance CPU-330 comes packaged in a white box that lists the model of the CPU block on the top. The packaging is glossy and plain, but quite attractive.
The text on the side of the box indicates what barb size is included with the block. Mine did not include any barbs, but since the Koolance CPU-330 uses industry standard G1/4 threads, it was easy for me to install my usual D-TEK 1/2" barbs.
Despite the unassuming box, everything was thoughtfully packed inside and damage-free upon arrival
3. What's Included
Koolance, being somewhat of a premium brand, includes an assortment of useful things with the CPU-330: The CPU block itself, a hold-down plate with mounting hardware, a backplate with a rubber non-conductive pad, Koolance-branded thermal compound, and a 2-page instruction sheet.
The CPU block is wrapped in plastic and has a Koolance sticker protecting the bottom from scratches during transit. The sticker makes the base of the block look unimpressive, but more on that later.
The included hold-down plate and mounting hardware officially support LGA775/S478/AM2/S939/S754/SocketF/SocketA/LGA771/S604/S603. This is THE most extensive compatibility list I've ever seen on a retail water block. My hat's off to Koolance for making a one size fits all solution.
Another thing that it's great to see Koolance include is a backplate. With all the concern lately over water blocks being mounted too tight and bending motherboards, Koolance has taken the time to design a backplate system that should work with pretty much any motherboard. The rubber pad is quite thick and will allow it to sit on top of any surface-mounted components on the back of a motherboard.
The Koolance branded thermal paste is not recognizable to me as any other brand, so I don't have a clear idea of how well it will perform. Either way it's nice to see little things like this included. The paste tube in my package was quite separated, so I don't know how effective it would be. More on this in the installation section.
The instrutions were a very weak point of the Koolance block. In contrast with the colour, glossy, DETAILED instructions included in Swiftech's retail package APOGEE GT, and the "to-the-point" laser-printed instructions in the D-TEK FuZion block, the Koolance instructions might as well have been printed on an old inkjet, faxed to my friend, who then photocopied it in case he lost the original, lost the original, faxed it back to Koolance, who then printed it on their dot matrix printer (the inkjet is broken now) and then sent it to me.
I'm exaggerating, but this thing is terrible. The text is OK, but the pictures are very very difficult to see anything in. They should be colour. More on this in installation...
EDIT: It's been brought to my attention that the manual on the Koolance site has colour photos and I've had a look at it. It's much better than this because you can actually make out the different parts used for mounting in the pictures. I'd highly recommend that anyone mounting this block have a look at the .pdf manual on the Koolance web site.
4. Block Appearance
Whether or not the Koolance CPU-330 performs up to our expectations, there's no arguing against that it's a thing of beauty. Here's a couple photos with and without barbs
It's quite difficult to get a good photograph of something that's so incredibly smooth and shiny. The lines that are present in all of the photos are the siding of a house that's about 6 feet away from the block.
This is bar NONE, the shiniest finish I have ever seen on the base of a water block. The gold plating looks fantastic, and just to drive the point home, here's a photo that was taken by focusing my camera far away and shooting at the close up block. You can clearly make out the pattern of the vinyl soffits that are 10 feet above the block.
There's trouble in paradise though. In the middle of the block you can see a slight distortion in the pattern where the lines bend out on both sides of what appears to be a problem with the base. Whether or not this affects performance remains to be seen, but it's far more important for good CPU contact to have a flat base than it is to have a shiny one...
This is a topic that we haven't tackled in much detail in the past beyond showing a couple pictures, but it's the most important determining factor in whether a block will perform well or not.
Water block design is not like air cooling. A water block the size of a heatpipe tower would perform incredibly poorly.
It doesn't take a PhD in physical sciences to tell you that more surface area means better heat transfer, so why is it that a water block can't be as big as a Tuniq Tower?
Many modern high end air coolers use copper heatpipes to transfer heat away from the base of the heat sink and up to a large aluminum fin array. This would be ineffective for water cooling because it would not remove the heatpipes as a bottleneck. The water would be able to remove as much heat as you want from the aluminum fins, but the heatpipes would end up being a bottleneck in such a design.
Water blocks are about having as much surface area as possible, but with the caveat that the area has to be as close to the die of the CPU (where the heat is generated, directly in the center of the CPU IHS - integrated heat spreader) as possible.
There are also other factors to consider. You could design a water block that has TONS of surface area, but restricts the flow of the water so much that it slows to a trickle. This would cause the water in the block to be significantly warmer than the water running through the rest of the loop. Warm water = warm CPU. That's not effective either.
That's not to say that restriction is all bad either. Many older style blocks, such as the D-TEK White Water, Danger Den TDX, and Swiftech STORM used a method called "impingement" to intentionally restrict the water, turning it into a jet that was then directed at the area directly above the CPU die. Impingement increases the turbulence and velocity of the water inside the block, which both improve performance, but sacrifices the velocity of the water through the rest of the loop (so your GPU block performance will suffer if you are using a very restrictive CPU block and a weak pump).
The recent trend among the leading CPU block manufacturers has been to abandon impingement in favor of more "free-flowing" designs that are optimized to provide good system performance without high powered (loud) pumps.
With all that background information behind us, it's time to tackle the internals of the Koolance CPU block.
The CPU-330 is fused shut, so the usual internal photos of the disassembled blocks have been done away with in favor of a photo from the top with the flash on through a barb hole. It's not an ideal solution, but this is all we have to go on.
Rather than positioning the water inlet directly over the CPU like the FuZion, Koolance has opted to take a route more like Swiftech's APOGEE series, by using a pin (in this case pyramid shaped pins) design with water flowing from one side to the other.
The pins are quite large, and I can't help but question the use of a triangular shape. The older Swiftech APOGEE uses pins that are smaller than the CPU-330 (smaller pins means more pins, more pins means more surface area), but are in a diamond shape. That means that for each unit of base area, Swiftech gets more than 4x that area in cooling potential. The pyramid shape yields a maximum of 3:1 ratio of cooling surface area to base surface area.
I'll be surprised to see this block take top performance honours at this point.
6. Installation & Instructions
Installation will be shown on a spare Foxconn 975X board that was lying in the lab because it would have been a pain to dismantle my test bed for the sake of showing the stock mounting hardware when I don't intend to use it for my testing.
The first step is to insert the threaded mounting poles into the backplate. Quite a bit of force was required for this and it was impossible to do by hand. I recommend the use of a pair of needle-nosed pliers to facilitate the process.
Next, position the rubber mat on top of the backplate and then push it through from the back of the motherboard. Like 95% of water blocks, the CPU-330 requires the motherboard to be removed from the case for installation.
I promised more details on the Koolance thermal compound, so here it is:
It separated quite a lot and was very watery when I applied it to the CPU. Also, the tube was greasy and made my hands feel gross when I touched it. I have attempted to include a picture, but you can't really see the greasiness. I'm still not sure what this was caused by, but for the sake of our performance testing, it's not a big deal because Arctic Cooling Ceramique (from the same tube even) will be used for all tests).
The next step is to put the CPU block on top of the CPU. This is really quite straight forward. For further instruction, see the picture above.
But this is where the simplicity ends and the terrible Koolance instruction manual takes over. This is the first water block that had such inadequate instructions that I was literally not able to mount the CPU block in the recommended manner. As you can see, once the hold down plate has been installed on the CPU and the springs are on the bolts, there is no way that I would be able to install one of the thumb nuts.
EDIT(applies to above paragraph): There's been some confusion about this paragraph, and I'd like to clear it up. The mounting system *IS* possible to use. It is necessary to hold two thumbscrews, one in each hand, compress the springs at opposite corners of the hold down plate, then start threading the thumbscrews WHILE you are compressing the springs with both hands at the same time. When I said impossible, I did not mean that I cannot do it. I meant that no novice user should have to mount a water block like that. The bolts should be long enough. So here's my correction in a nutshell: It's possible, but it's still an unnecessarily difficult system.
I ended up doing what is called a "hard mount". A hard mount refers to a method of holding down the CPU block that involves direct "hard" contact between the fastening nuts and the hold down plate. No spring is involved. This is a perfectly legitimate way to mount a CPU block, but not the easiest way to get even mounting pressure.
Although the installation process was not entirely easy, I have to say the end result is well worth it. This block looks fantastic installed on a motherboard and is sure to "wow" anyone who sees it.
7. Test Bed Hardware
Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 rev.1.0
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 @ 3.6GHz 1.5Vcore (in BIOS) 8x450
2x1GB OCZ PC2-6400 @ 2.0V DDR2-900 5-5-5-15
eVGA 7900GS KO
Silent Green Modular 600W power supply
Samsung 80GB SATA2 HDD
Lite-On IDE DVD-ROM
Microsoft Windows XP MCE 2005 (ok technically not hardware but where else was it going to go?)
Core Temp (what are ya gonna do...)
Water Cooling Hardware:
APOGEE GTX (bowed)
Magicool CPU Block
Sunbeam Tuniq Tower (for comparison against high end air cooling)
Swiftech MCP655 variable (set to 5 for all performance tests and 1 for bleeding)
Clearflex 1/2" ID 3/4" OD tubing
Magicool dual 120mm radiator with 2x Yate Loon D12SL-12 @ 12V
D-TEK High Flow 1/2" ID Barbs were used on all components for consistency
Arctic Silver Ceramique thermal compound
8. Testing Methodology:
The Koolance CPU-330 will be tested against the other high end CPU blocks we have in the lab as well as the Magicool CPU block that was featured in our last review. In order to provide a reference point for those unfortunate souls still using air cooling, the Tuniq Tower will be included in our charts.
Side View of Koolance CPU-330 Mounted on my GA-965P-DS3 Test Bed
For the sake of generating consistent results, all blocks are mounted using the same hardware. A Zalman plastic back plate is used to prevent motherboard warping and other than that, the D-TEK FuZion screws, springs, and thumb nuts were used. Once the block is mounted, mounting pressures are tuned by running my stress program (dual Prime small FFT) and observing changes in CPU temperature through Core Temp while tightening or loosening any of the four corners. The only results included are the best ones I am able to obtain.
Top View of Koolance CPU-330 Mounted on my GA-965P-DS3 Test Bed
In order to ensure that the mount is not an anomaly, each block is mounted a second time. Both results are reported in the performance charts.
These two results are presented as "Mount 1 Idle", "Mount 1 Load", "Mount 2 Idle", "Mount 2 Load" in our performance charts.
The Tuniq Tower is mounted using the stock hardware.
Room temperature was held in a controlled environment at 25C.
The Entire Test Bed in all its Glory
The system is allowed to sit at the Windows XP desktop for 15 minutes to take an idle reading. Dual Prime95 small FFT is used to load the CPU for 15 minutes, and then a load reading is taken. The CPU is then allowed to sit idle at the desktop for 15 minutes, and idle temperatures are then verified.
Due to the high voltages being run through this CPU, it was necessary to place a 92mm fan over the northbridge, and pointed at the MOSFETs.
Arctic Silver Ceramique was used in all tests to ensure consistent performance and to avoid the curing times associated with Arctic Silver 5 and other such high performance thermal compounds.
You may notice that our performance numbers vary dramatically from other reviews of this block around the web, particularly when it is compared to the D-TEK FuZion and the Swiftech APOGEE GT. Based on our findings, I can only conclude that any different results with this block may have been obtained by a somewhat flawed testing methodology. Our temperatures are taken from the core of the CPU using Core Temp, rather than from a thermal sensor attached to part of the CPU block (which would be reading the temperature of a water cooled piece of copper AWAY from the heat source). By measuring the CPU temps this way, we are able to ensure that our results are accurate to within +-1 degree Celsius.
I'm going to let these performance results speak for themselves:
While the CPU-330 outperforms the air cooling Tuniq by about 6 degrees under load, the results it generates do not compare quite as favorably to the other WATER blocks that we've tested.
The Koolance CPU-330 is outperformed by every other block we've tested, and by as much as 10 degrees in the case of the D-TEK FuZion. Even the $37 ($42 with some nice D-TEK barbs) budget Magicool CPU block outperforms the Koolance CPU-330 under load.
What can I say? The Koolance CPU-330 costs $60 ($65 with a pair of D-TEK 1/2" barbs) and is outperformed by every other block we've tested in our labs from the $37 Magicool CPU block right on up to the $70 D-TEK FuZion. Considering that the price is only about $7 lower than a FuZion, it would be very hard to recommend this product based on anything other than its physical appearance or its out-of-the-box compatibility.
The good things about this block are the back plate, which is great for protecting your motherboard investment, the finish on the bottom, for all the good it was able to do, and the aesthetics, which are fabulous.
Once the APOGEE GT (1-2C lower than the GTX in unscientific testing) price drops hit the local shops, you'll be able to get a Swiftech block for $10-15 less than this Koolance block, which includes barbs, and also now includes a back plate, as well as excellent Swiftech instructions.
When it's all said and done, what is this block? In this reviewer's mind, it's an expensive decoration. This is fine for people who are not serious about performance and value, but in my mind, any water block that performs closer to the air than it does to its "wetter" competition had better be bundled in a sub $100USD pre-built kit or not sold at all.
- The best base finish I've EVER seen
- Excellent aesthetics
- Best. Compatibility. Ever.
- Aesthetics of the block leave nothing to be desired
- Includes everything you need out of the box
- Includes a back plate, which prevents motherboard flexing when applying pressure
- Excellent Koolance configuration web page to help you put together your Koolance water cooling system.
- Performance is lower than any other CPU block that has come through our labs
- Cost is too high considering that no barbs are included, and the performance is lacking
- Terrible instructions included in the box
- Stock mounting hardware was difficult to assemble, then even more difficult to use
The bottom line: Not Recommended
Review by: Misoprostol